Pirates Notebook: Lincoln must 'pitch better'
Brad Lincoln has not pitched nearly as well as he or the Pirates had hoped since being promoted, 1-3 with a 6.29 ERA in his first eight major-league starts, and that reached its nadir when he turned a nine-run lead Tuesday into a seven-run, 2 1/3-inning debacle.
Management is concerned, and a return to the minors could be in play if the struggles continue, but Lincoln does not appear to have let any of it get him down.
Asked what he needs to do to upgrade his work today against San Diego, he laughed and replied, "I just need to go out there and pitch better."
"I can't let the game dictate the way I pitch. If we score nine runs, I can't let that dictate anything. I've got to pitch like it's a scoreless game. And it's about getting ahead of hitters, too, getting into counts where they're not comfortable. I'm getting behind, 1-0, 2-0, and they're not as defensive on their swings. They're taking better hacks, and it's not missing the barrel."
Is getting behind really the problem, though?
When Lincoln has gotten ahead, 0-1, opponents still are batting .309 against him. When he has gotten ahead, 0-2, the figure is .320.
It might be, instead, that Lincoln is failing to finish off anyone: He has 18 strikeouts in 44 1/3 innings. With Class AAA Indianapolis, he had 55 strikeouts in 68 innings.
His fastball velocity has been inconsistent, as has the command, and the latter was the focus of pitching coach Joe Kerrigan's side session with Lincoln Thursday: No mechanical changes, just fastball after fastball.
Kerrigan dismissed the notion that anything is amiss with Lincoln's mechanics -- "No, not at all" -- and focused on his rookie status.
"You can compare it to what first-year quarterbacks go through in the NFL: You get a lot of variables thrown at you, the game speeds up, it's not a college game anymore, and it's not a minor-league game anymore," Kerrigan said.
"You see flashes from Brad, and you see times where he speeds up because the game speeds up. I just think he needs to settle down and let his stuff work like it did in the minors."
Center fielder Andrew McCutchen was cleared for pinch-hitting duty Saturday night -- he did not appear in the game --and could rejoin the lineup today, manager John Russell said.
If not then, Tuesday in Denver remains the target date, but Russell emphasized that he saw no reason -- as of Saturday night -- not to use McCutchen, who has missed the past six games with a sprained right shoulder.
"I know Cutch wants to get back out there," Russell said.
Temperatures on the field at PNC Park again were in the 100-degree range, so manager John Russell and his coaching staff again limited outdoor work to a simple batting practice.
Russell said the conditioning staff enforces that players constantly keep drinking water or Gatorade -- remember former outfielder Chris Duffy's repeated problems with dehydration -- and that continues into the game.
Reliever D.J. Carrasco, a nutrition nut, has his own advice: "I always try to eat right, so that, when I do have to perform, even in this heat, my body should be pretty optimal. You don't want to just be going out there on fumes."
• First baseman Steve Pearce continues to make "expected progress," general manager Neal Huntington said, in recovering from his knee injury in Bradenton, Fla., but has not resumed baseball-type activity.
• Top outfield prospect Starling Marte has resumed swinging a bat after a setback with his surgically repaired left hand, and he should begin another rehabilitation stint in the near future, Huntington said.
• The sellout crowd Saturday night of 36,967 was the Pirates' sixth this season, already two more than all of last season. It was partly lured by a postgame concert by the Steve Miller Band. Miller also sang the National Anthem and threw the ceremonial first pitch.